Tag Archives: Dinosaur Park

Brightly Colored Mother’s Love

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Who says my heart of a grass seedling

Can ever repay her warm spring sun?

–Meng Jiao, from Traveler’s Song

Meng Jiao 孟郊 clearly loved and cared for his mother. The above lines — taken from this translation of “A Traveler’s Song” — convey that as do the rest of the poem. For a large part of his life, he refused to take the imperial exams, but he eventually relented once he reached middle age. A civil service job, he reasoned, would allow him to financially support her as she grew older.  This eventually led him to a ministerial position in Liyang — a city to the south that is part of Changzhou’s prefecture. There, he dithered around among streams and forests while composing poems.

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“A Traveler’s Song” (遊子吟) was one of those poems he wrote while living in Liyang. It’s a short bit of a verse. It speaks of a son about to set off to travel, and his mom is sewing his clothing for him before he leaves. The poem doesn’t mention where the son is going or how long he will be gone. It’s just the departure is impending, and that both the son and the mother will miss each other.

Generality can be a blessing and a curse in poetry. It largely depends on the linguistic skill of the poet in conveying emotion. This poem, in the variety of English language translations I have read, uses generality and vagueness rather well. It gives a reader just enough information while allowing them to read their own life into the lines.

For example, Meng Jiao’s poem remind me of my own mom. While I was in college in West Virginia, my parents still lived overseas — The Netherlands for a year, and then the UK until my father retired from the US Department of Defense. I came to visit for a few weeks every Christmas and New Years. Eventually, I would have to get back on the airplane and fly across the Atlantic. I wouldn’t see them again until summer, when they would come to the US to see my brother, sister, and myself. There was always talk of time and distance every time my Mom and I parted ways.  Of course, plenty of other readers around China and the rest of the world have had no problem understanding this poem. It is one of Meng Jiao’s most famous works.

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It is always interesting to see how a famous piece of literature transcends written text and takes on a life out in the world. “A Traveler’s Tale” is actually part of the decorative lanterns at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. A large chunk of the colorful art on display have more generalized holiday themes. However, there is a portion close to Hehai Road that recreates Changzhou history.

I found this recently because a friend and I went on a stroll specifically to look at the lanterns and laugh at their gaudy silliness. We both sort of stopped and lingered at the Meng Jiao display, because, well, part of it looked a little creepy.

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At the time, we both didn’t know what we were looking at. The reddish marks on her face look a little like bruises. I didn’t quite know what to make about the black smudges around the both eyes. Now that I have had time to think about it, it’s the limitations of the medium when it comes to this sort of public art. Spring Festival lanterns easily look childish. The vibrant, bright colors have something to do with that. However, if you look at Meng Jiao’s mom, and the nearby recreation of Su Dongpo, they have a difficulty in conveying age.

Of course, I am nit picking. The point Spring Festival lantern displays is to do exactly what my friend and I did — walk around and smile at them. There is plenty of time to do just that. While the western holiday season is coming to an end, the run up to Spring Festival is just beginning.

 

Should You Visit Dinosaur Park’s Spring Festival Display During the Day or at Night?

It is that time of year again. Spring Festival is rapidly approaching, and most of the colorful displays are already up, or will be going up very quickly. The best of the lantern displays, however, is usually at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. Yes, Yancheng in Wujin has some lights, but this year it is a few roosters and lot of colorful eggs. It really doesn’t compare as of this writing. Dinosaur Park usually has very large, very detailed lights. This year is no different. As always, it’s usually a fun, family friendly thing to do. However, there is one question. Should one look visit Dino Park during the day or during the evening this year? Look at the following pictures and draw your own conclusion. This is just a quick sampling of what has been put up at Dinosaur Park this year.

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My Introduction to Indian Kitchen

Located on Hanjiang Road aka 汉江路

For a year and a half, I went without Indian food. I had always heard Xinbei had a great Indian restaurant, but I lived in Wujin and I was in no mood to do hour long B1 bus rides to do anything. Then, Kaffe opened near Xintiandi Park and the Wujin TV Tower.  Kaffe sported a streamlined menu, but everything thing they offered from Tandoori chicken to paneer and more all tasted great. In truth, I never really had a bad meal there. And if you live in Wujin, you need to support this restaurant.

Times change, and now I am in Xinbei. Kaffe is now an hour away, and I live only a few blocks from Indian Kitchen.  I was wondering if the place lived up to the hype, or if it was been given a pass because it was the only Indian place in Xinbei. I can say now that the place lives up to its reputation.

Indian Potato Salad.

The time I went there, I had two dishes: mutton masala and potato salad. Mutton and lamb are easy to do do wrong; if overcooked, both can be tough and chewy — like if you were trying to eat shoe leather.  The mutton in the dish was cooked perfectly. It was very tender, and the masala sauce didn’t seem overly spicy.

The potato salad, on the otherhand, was a bit of a surprise. When I ordered it, I was sort of expecting the potato dish at Kaffe. I little bit spicy with chickpeas and veggies. This so wasn’t that. It was like eating a mayonnaise-rich American potato salad. It wasn’t a sort of taste I was expecting from Indian food. Then again, my experience with Indian food comes from eateries in New Jersey and West Virginia. It was very good, but it is something I likely will not order again. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Indian Kitchen’s menu is fairly long. The vegetarian section takes up two pages, for example. Some dishes are bound to be more exciting than others.

Indian Kitchen is located on Hanjiang Road 汉江路 near Dinosaur Park 常州恐龙园. The B12 passes it. Getting there from Wujin might be a little more difficult. That likely entails taking the 302 to Dinosaur Park and either walking a couple of blocks or taking a taxi. However way you get there, the food is worth the trip.

Mutton Masala

My Life, Illustrated by a Dinosaur Park Parking Lot

“You know, most Americans would think that…”

“I am not a typical American.” I say this to cut a person off. I always do. Only, I do it politely.
My biography is way to long rehash completely, but it’s true. I will never fit the stereotype of “American” that some Europeans or Asians would love to quickly characterize. Plus, I do not say this out of vanity or rampaging self esteem. It’s simply just factually true. I am not your average American, and I was reminded of this upon a recent visit to Dinosaur Park in Changzhou’s northern Xinbei district.

Yes, Dinosaur Park — with its multitude of roller coasters,its rides and its prehistorically themed shopping plaza right outside its entrance. Here, you can find goofy sculptures of extinct reptiles wearing top hots or crowns.   The architecture of the buildings incorporates this dino so heavily it seems to drip from every wall, every store front. So, one could easily ask this: why did such a gaudy place give you such existential feelings about your nationality?

Well, it wasn’t Dinosaur Park — rather the strange, semi-abandoned empty parking lot next to it. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even have an advertised name.  It’s just there. It’s filled with short concrete pillars, and each has a country’s flag and a short geographical blurb in Chinese and English.  As themes go, it’s a stark incongruity to the Dinosaur themed kitsch it’s next to.

I found myself there wandering among the pillars retracing every period in my life.  I looked for and mostly found the flags of countries I had been to.  That would start with Germany, where I was born on an American Air Force Base. Only, that was The Cold War, when East and West Germany were two separate countries. Since then, reunification happened after the Berlin wall got sledgehammered. The presence of the American military in Europe and Germany has been drastically reduced since then.

After that, I wandered until I found the United Kingdom. But that wasn’t enough. The strangest part of these pillars is in who was included and who wasn’t. I couldn’t find a flag for Pakistan to send to a friend via Wechat, but Bermuda was there, instead. I lived on that island chain for three years after my family left the UK. They USA once had a naval base there. I lived there for three years. Bermuda is a self-governing territory within the United Kingdom. It’s practically an independent country except for British Colonial legalese. Strangely enough, other territories were there when other major, globally impactful nations were absent. More on that later.

Only, I didn’t think about that as yet. I was too busy tracking down Belgium. All the while, I could think of nothing but excellent chocolate, salty potatoes, beer like Chimay, and the awkwardness of my eighth and ninth grade years in high school near NATO’s military headquarters.  Once, I snapped the photo, I quickly moved on.

I dearly wanted to find The Netherlands. Those were special, if yet frustrating three years. Holland remains my most nostalgic, fondly remembered years while living in Europe. Here, the people were extremely friendly, and here, I turned 18 and left for college in America. The Netherlands was the last European country I lived in, and for a long time, I missed the place desperately.

Imagine the culture shock I might feel. I was an American who never really ever lived in America. And I ended up in West Virginia, a land of mountains, shuttered coal mines, and fundamentally strange people. None of them could truly understand or comprehend me. They grew up in small towns and never travelled; they had roots and extended families. I was a drifter, but that was how I was raised by my parents. Literally. Living in America left me fundamentally unimpressed. There was no spiritual awakening. There was no profound feeling of “coming home.” America felt to me as alien — as foreign — as Germany, the UK, Belgium, Bermuda, and the Netherlands did.  Only, I was supposed to feel proud, and I felt nothing but shame instead. How else can you feel when you share a culture and a language with the people around you, and you still feel like an outsider? I quickly took a picture of the American flag and moved on. I didn’t want to dwell on my many personal ghosts.

China, as one might expect, was super easy to find in this strangely international parking lot. Multiple concrete posts feature this nearly solid red flag with yellow stars. I took multiple shots of this from different angles. Some had dinosaur park in the background, and some had your typical Chinese residential group of skyscrapers. That’s also where my story currently ends. I work in China now, and I live in Changzhou. Life, right now is rather nice. Sure, it’s not what I imagined for myself years ago, but life never turns out exactly as you planned.